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Loch Morar Expedition Report 1975


© Loch Ness & Morar Project.
May be used for private research only. All other rights reserved.

This year an attempt was made to investigate the cause of sightings indicating the presence of a large unknown animal in Loch Morar, with characteristics similar to those familiar at Loch Ness.

The following report is to record this, since though we have failed so far, there are elements in our objectives, attitude and method, which are new to investigations of this kind. Furthermore, we have broken ground along our chosen lines of approach, and so have confidence in seeking support for a continuation and extension of our activities next year.

The expedition took place between August 15th and the end of September and con­sisted mainly of zoology students of Royal Holloway College, University of London, who manned the equipment which I had designed and built in collaboration with Mr. Trevor Wicks.

Expedition Members

M. Barrett
L. Davis
I. Ericke
D. Foakes
P. Kennedy
T. Leighton
I. Montgomery Campbell
G. Orton
T. Parker
M. Parsons
C. Penfield
S. Robinson
J. Saye
D. Sharp
D.Shirt
N. Smith
A. Thorogood
R. White
M. Whitehead
T. Wicks
A. Wyatt

                                                                                                                                                           

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We wish to express our gratitude to the following for their co‑operation encouragement:

Mr. Tim Dinsdale, A.R.AeS
The Loch Morar Survey. 1970-72
Elizabeth Montgomery Campbell, MJI
Dr. David Solomon
The Master of Lovat
The residents of Morar, particularly Mr. McCleod (proprietor of the Morar Hotel) and
Mr. Walker, Mr. Angus Cameron, Mr. Morrison and Mr. Mc.Donnell.

We also record our appreciation of the help given to us by the following in contributing equipment free of charge, especially to Stanmore Video Services Ltd. for providing a closed-circuit television system.

Gwelo Manufacturing Ltd
Mr. Tony Dodds
Mr. R. Pliskin
Electronic Pest Control Ltd.
Scientific & Technical Ltd.
Admiralty Research Laboratory
Drawings by MJ. Parsons

Published November 1975,  Loch Morar Expedition 1973-75

GENERAL DESCRIPTION

Loch Morar is a glaciated fresh‑water lake, lying about 2.5 miles south of Mallaig, on the south‑west seaboard of Inverness-shire. It is some twelve miles long, with an average width of nearly a mile, and has a catchment area of about 65 square miles. The area is one of metamorphosed Moine schist, with drowned fjord‑like valleys, deepened by the glaciers. The Loch is typical of lakes formed in this way, having a great depth at the centre, while being shallow at the seaward end. Here there is a low‑lying area, known as the "Smooth Mile", which is a terminal moraine and upon which the present village of Morar stands. At this point the very short River Morar drains the loch into the sea only a quarter of a mile away, with a fall of only thirty feet. It is believed that the sea level was once higher, just as the ice retreated and that 6000 years ago, there would have been little difference between loch and sea level. This would have made it easier for marine animals to enter.

The lake is the deepest in the British Isles, the maximum recorded depth being 1017 feet in the centre, opposite the River Meoble, one of the main feeder streams of the southern shore. To find an equivalent depth in the sea, west of Scotland, it is necessary to go beyond the continental shelf west of Ireland. Though a third deeper than Loch Ness (which is a fault line) Morar is less steep‑sided, having a mean depth of only 284 feet as against 433 feet. It has a much greater proportion of shallow water and many small shallow bays, particularly to the south.

This is important, as bottom fauna, the main food for fish, is restricted to water less than 50 feet deep and Morar is therefore relatively productive in a biological sense. There are substantial numbers of salmon, sea‑trout, brown trout, char, eels, sticklebacks and minnows. It may be of significance that salmon only enter the Loch to spawn, having derived the energy for their development from the sea. They could therefore be an important food source independent of the basic productivity of the loch. There is now a hydro‑electric power dam on the River Morar, which would effectively prevent any large animal leaving the loch by that route. The village of Morar lies at the western end on the "Road to the Isles" but is screened from the greater part of the loch by hills and a group of wooded islands. A road runs to the village of Bracorina, about one third along the length of the loch. Only the few houses of this village and a house at Swordlands overlook the water. Compared with Loch Ness therefore, very few people are in a position to see the loch's surface.

INTRODUCTION
The object of this expedition has been to establish the identity of the large unknown animal of the Scottish lochs, evidence for the existence of which has already been  adequately assembled. After the years of reliable eye‑witness accounts, sonar and photographic evidence none can presume to "discover" the Loch Ness Monster. Indeed, I feel that further efforts aimed merely at collecting evidence for its presence will be labouring the point and could lead to a crusa­ding but defensive spirit, likely to alienate those to whom such evidence is submitted. However, in the continued absence of official interest, the amateur naturalist has the opportunity, actually to establish of what kind the creature may be. Should the Loch Ness Monster come to be universally accepted it will be largely through the efforts of amateurs; there is no presumption in attempting to finish the job.

To a great extent, the opaque, peaty waters of Loch Ness have forced investigators to concentrate upon a surface watch for what is obviously an aquatic animal. This has resulted in very infrequent observations at long range of a very small portion of the creature. More logical underwater methods have been largely discredited through ambiguities in interpreting the results. Obviously, sonar traces are particularly difficult to analyse, whilst even underwater photo­graphy, due to the necessity for "computer improvement", produces indecisive results. Direct observation within the creature's own element is very difficult at Ness due to the colloidal peat stain drastically restricting visibility.

Ironically therefore, I believe, it is partly the concentration of effort and resources on Loch Ness, which has delayed progress so long. Firstly, the notoriety attaching to Ness detracted from the value of reports from elsewhere and by branding the creature as a unique phenomenon, made its acceptance less probable. Then the basic water properties of Loch Ness imposed limitations of technique, leading to inconclusive results.

Of the reports from other lochs, those from Loch Morar are the best documented, due to the work of the Loch Morar Survey, which has over three years, collected some 38 sighting reports, in addition to valuable biological data. Three of these sightings were by their own members. Reports from Morar go back over a hundred years and refer to a beast recognized by local tradition as the "Mhorag". When seen this was considered an omen of death for a member of one of the clans living by the loch. All the features of the descriptions tally with the reports from Loch Ness. The Loch Morar Survey concluded that the loch did hold a genuine mystery justifying investigation.

By far the most significant relevant difference between Ness and Morar is water clarity, Loch Morar having a clarity exceptional in the British Isles. Three eye witnesses report seeing the creature underwater. Here is an opportunity to make, for the first time, a committed and logical search within the creature's own largely unexplored environment, with a reasonable hope of unqualified success.

Our expedition has used techniques specifically exploiting water clarity to achieve direct observation of the species underwater and to search for actual organic remains. We are the only British expedition to have attempted this. Beneath the surface it will be possible to see and photograph the animal's entire profile, not just a series of humps to theorise upon. This is vital to identification, as many structural features remain unknown.

No continuous surface watch was attempted, as 1 did not feel that even if successful, it would contribute any further to the objective. Again, no attempts were made to collect further eyewitness accounts, as except insofar as they reveal aspects of behaviour or new features, they can only serve to reassure us. In fact, we did receive some accounts unsolicited and where those involved were prepared to allow it, passed these on to the Loch Morar Survey. The way forward is to accept the evidence found by previous investigators and act on it, not in duplicating it.

Though we are logically compelled to search underwater, it is obvious that whatever the conditions, visibility will be very restricted. Thus it is vital to deduce some tactical scheme of approach.

The possible food sources present in the loch were fish, plankton, detritus and plants. With the possible exception of detritus, all these are most abundant inshore and near the surface, within the photic zone (that depth to which light sufficient for photosynthesis can penetrate). The photic zone is within some forty feet. Most aspects of structure and behaviour so far reported indicate a fish predator and the findings of the Biological Section of the Loch Morar Survey, confirm that there are sufficient fish to support a population of such predators. Evidence from both Ness and Morar, suggests that the monster frequents shallow bays and even that it may have well‑established "patrol lines", which is characteristic of predators in general. If this is so, the creature must frequent the upper layer of water in order to find food. It is upon this assumption that the operation has been launched, at first on a narrow front, to explore the shallow water.


THE SUBMARINE OBSERVATION CHAMBER "MACHAN"
Objections to the use of submarines at Loch Ness have centred around the poor visibility under water and the slow speed of the submarine. Small submarines have a speed of about three knots, while the quarry is reported to be capable of ten times as much. All this implies an attempted pursuit.

A well‑proven method of observing wild life on land is by means of a "hide". The purpose of Machan is to provide a passive underwater camera hide at strategic points around the loch at a depth of about thirty feet. When submerged she rests on the bottom silently, without movement, and allows photography using existing light.

Machan consists of a forty-inch diameter fibre glass sphere, stiffened by moulded ribs and flanges. There are six ¾-inch plate glass ports angled slightly upwards to gain maximum visibility against the surface brightness. This has been established at about sixty feet. The main ballast is suspended in a cage beneath the sphere. The observer sits between two water ballast tanks inside, and submersion is achieved by flooding these. As there are no compressible air spaces at any time during the dive, it is possible to make extremely fine adjustments to trim, even to the extent of remaining stationary at a given depth. In order to surface, water is then pumped out with a ¾-inch bore pump. As only just suffi­cient water is admitted to take the craft down, only a small amount need be expelled to make it ascend. Once at the surface, freeboard is obtained by pumping out more water with a diaphragm bilge pump or by the surface crew removing small ballast weights from the outside. Should the surfacing mechanism fail for any reason, the vessel can simply be pulled to the surface manually, as in the submerged state it weighs only a pound or two. In an extreme emergency, the main ballast can be released, thus allowing the craft to surface immediately, with an excess buoyancy of about 900 pounds. Air is supplied from the surface at 2 cu.ft. per minute by means of hoses and a small electric pump. The chamber alone contains enough air for at least an hour. A telephone provides communication between the observer and the surface.

The chamber is intended to be used in shallow bays off the mouths of main feeder streams, where the largest con­centrations of fish are to be found and where it can be used furthest from the shore, while remaining in shallow and sheltered water. A depth of thirty feet is adequate, as it is the maximum at which there is sufficient light for filming and also coincides with the depth at which fish find most of their food. The bottom fauna is most abundant here. The Loch Morar Survey, in analysing the behaviour of the creature, concluded that it does appear to frequent shallow water and particularly bays.

Operations were limited this year by the fact that we were unable to use the intended site. Nevertheless, Machan has now dived some thirty times without incident along the twenty-foot contour off the islands, sometimes remaining submerged for two hours. Film has been shot successfully at this depth. When baited with a preparation supplied by Scientific & Technical Ltd., the chamber is frequently surrounded with shoals of small fish ‑ for example, sticklebacks and fry, which remain undisturbed and indeed show some curiosity. On one occasion a large shoal of trout was seen. Machan, while remaining essentially simple, is effective through the versatility and resilience of the human being.

VIDEO EQUIPMENT
As a development of the underwater vigil, we were fortunate to receive the support of Stanmore Video Ltd. in adapting a closed‑circuit television system for use beneath the loch. A camera is maintained underwater, while an observer views a monitor screen on the surface. This allows continuous surveillance with no water disturbance and without the obvious risks to life. Video equipment also has the ability to operate at the very low light levels found underwater and results can be seen and recorded immediately without the need to process films. Mounted in similar locations to those envisaged for the manned submersible, this equipment represented our best hope of obtaining close‑up film.

While being tested on the surface, the camera was used successfully as an image intensifier to scan the loch at dusk. During tests underwater, the camera failed due to condensation. This was in no way attributable to any basic inadequacy of the system, which had impressed us greatly, but to simple bad luck. The electrical problems posed by using the system in the field have been solved. It was evident that video had the greatest potential of all the equipment used and we still consider it to be the best means of meeting our requirements. We shall, therefore, be using it again next year on a larger scale.


GLASS‑BOTTOMED BOAT PEQUOD

The remarkable clarity of the water was further exploited by building a specialized glass‑bottomed boat to carry out an extensive survey of the shallow water, in a search for organic remains or other evidence of large creatures. The loch lies almost parallel to the prevailing westerly winds and a floating carcass could have been deposited at the eastern end or "head" of the loch. There was the fascinating possibility of a "graveyard" within feet of the surface, which would certainly have remained undetected until now. Some marine species, i.e. elephant seals, tend to form graveyards, while dying whales have been known to beach themselves in order to breathe. As a very long shot indeed, and bearing in mind the sightings from boats of the creature underwater recorded by the Loch Morar Survey, there was a chance that a living specimen would be seen.

The Pequod consists of a small boat 8 ft long with a 2 h.p. engine and a crew of two. The observer lies face down in a central channel 9 inches below the waterline, looking through a transparent plastic dome. This gives him all round visi­bility from directly ahead to straight down, and even a little astern. With the head held back from the dome there was a measure of distortion due to a "fish‑eye" lens effect, but this in itself gave the advantage of much more extended visi­bility. The maximum range under normal conditions was probably about 30 feet, which was confirmed by echo‑sounder. A galvanized anchor was seen at a measured 50 feet below the surface, but this was obviously an ideal object.

A technique of working was evolved whereby the craft was towed to the section to be covered by a support boat. It them moved in and out from the shore in parallel sweeps, with no more than 10 feet between each. The observer was replaced every 30 minutes. During the survey it is calculated that the Pequod covered some 200 miles in a thorough search of virtually all the possible water. Although no unknown skeletal remains resulted, this was by far the most significant part of this year's effort, giving us insight into the critical shallow water contours and fish feeding grounds.

For the most part, the bottom shelves gently to between 20 and 30 feet, with a "scree" of broken rocks, pebbles or sand. This often gives way suddenly to silt, which slopes more steeply. Plants and most of the fish seen are confined to this 30 feet of water. The presence of this shelf at about 20 feet would make it possible for a large predator to patrol the fringes of the loch in deeper water without being seen. It may be significant that where this ledge is absent and the slope more uniform, i.e. Swordlands and Meoble Bays, the creature is sometimes seen. We did find a few large grooves or scratches in the silt about 10 feet down, but they were quite possibly caused by items pulled by boats; nets etc.

The shallows at the head of the loch were interesting in that they did in fact contain a large amount of debris in the form of decaying tree trunks. As expected, plants were most numerous in bays and off the entrance to the River Morar. The south shore seemed richer in plant life, which tended to be concentrated at the eastern ends of the bays.

We can say that rooted plants are unlikely to be a food source. They are not present in sufficient numbers and those present showed no signs of disturbance.

Having virtually eliminated the possibility of there being a skeleton in the shallow water, we shall extend our search to the deeper water.

HYDROPHONES
Through the help of the Royal Navy, we were able to operate a hydrophone set in an attempt to record any unusual underwater sounds. The system was used in a bay near the 30-foot contour among the islands. The hydrophone remained on the bottom about 200 feet out. Monitoring was carried out at all hours of the day and night. Although the equip­ment was very effective, no inexplicable sounds were heard. Experiments were conducted by "broadcasting" unidentif­ied sounds recorded at Loch Ness by Bob Love. No responses were obtained.

CONCLUSION
After three years work, we can now claim to have developed a satisfactory system of passive underwater surveil­lance and have found the most promising sites for its use. We hope to give it a fair trial shortly. We have also made a beginning upon a search for organic remains, which will be extended to include the deepest parts of the loch. In our view, Morar remains the most potentially rewarding site for active investigation. We believe that our methods now provide the best chances of any so far employed and shall seek support in our intention to extend them. 

                                                               ADRIAN J SHINE

                     

 

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Loch Ness and Morar Project Report 1975 - Adrian Shine